Much like on Saturday, when Manchester City scored three times in ten minutes to overcome League Two Cheltenham Town, Leicester produced a quick-fire turnaround to stave off an upset as Cengiz Under and Youri Tielemans scored in quick succession after half-time in response to Mads Bach Sorensen’s early strike, with James Maddison eventually sealing a 3-1 win.
The Foxes did not leave it as late as City and Brentford, having beaten four Premier League sides in their run to the Carabao Cup semi-finals already this season, were no minnows. But, as Pep Guardiola had, Brendan Rodgers eventually got his reward for taking the competition seriously in spite of the fixture pile-up as his side’s quality – particularly that of Maddison and Tielemans – told. An unexpected tilt at the Premier League title may be the priority, but with holders Arsenal already out and one of Liverpool and Manchester United about to follow, the cup surely represents a realistic trophy chance for the Northern Irishman’s exciting young team.
Thomas Frank made six changes to the side that had beaten Luton in midweek in the Bees’ first game since a Covid outbreak put their season on hold, top scorer Ivan Toney’s red card in that fixture meaning he was conveniently suspended for a game he was unlikely to have played anyway.
Leicester rotated, too, but their back-line was still one which included two of the best defenders in the country last season in Caglar Soyuncu and the fit again Ricardo Pereira, while the creative triumvirate of Harvey Barnes, Maddison and Tielemans was fresh from tearing Chelsea apart in midweek.
They began with similar verve, winger Under roasting young Fin Stevens and teeing up Ayoze Perez, only for the forward to fire wide.
Brentford’s opener came as much against the run of play as is possible after only seven minutes as the Foxes failed to deal with Vitaly Janelt’s corner and Sorensen reacted fastest to poke in from close range.
The visitors almost responded immediately, Maddison slipping in Perez, only for Ethan Pinnock to make a crucial block, with the defender on hand again soon after to hook clear after Barnes’ shot deflected off Sorensen and threatened the far corner.
Despite the open nature of the game, it was set-pieces at either end that came closest to adding to the scoreline before the break, Saman Ghoddos and Maddison both conjuring decent free-kick efforts, while Tariqe Fosue forced Danny Ward into a sharp stop as Leicester were almost undone by another corner.
By the time the teams emerged for the second half most of the snow on the pitch had melted away and hopes of an upset would soon follow suit as Leicester scored twice in five minutes to turn the tie on its head.
First, Soyuncu robbed Ghoddos in midfield and found Maddison, who swept twinkle-toed between two men to feed Under outside him, the Turkish international sweeping home.
Then, Tariqe Fosu worked back and tripped Tielemans inside the box, Michael Oliver showing no hesitation in pointing to the spot to allow the Belgian to step up himself and send Luke Daniels the wrong way.
Under should’ve mad the game safe soon after, only to steer wide from Pereira’s cut-back after the full-bay had been sent in behind by Tielemans’ superb ball from deep.
It fell instead to Maddison, his fan club expanding by the day amid a string of superb performances – not to mention a much-lauded Sky Sports interview – to confirm the result on 71 minutes after Daniels had parried Barnes’ strike.
For Brentford, a second cup run of the season would always have been a bonus, and perhaps a burden, with Covid postponements leaving their schedule particularly daunting between now and the next international break in March.
For Leicester, it’s Brighton up next in round five and with European football to return next month something may have to give for them, too. But in this form, and with a deeper squad than at any point in the club’s recent history, they are genuine cup contenders.